After closing out the biggest spending year in its history, the Harris County Flood Control District has no plans of slowing down in 2020 as it continues to execute 237 flood bond projects at once.
With $2.5 billion in local money at its disposal courtesy of a bond referendum approved by voters in August 2018—$291 million of which is allocated for the Cypress Creek watershed—HCFCD Deputy Executive Director Matt Zeve said construction is only beginning to ramp up along Cypress Creek.
The district had 16 active construction sites in the Cy-Fair area as of early January, and there are plans for 20 total bond-funded projects over the next decade.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey saturated the Texas Gulf Coast, causing Cypress Creek to pour out of its banks and flood thousands of homes.
“We have a lot of construction that will begin in 2020 in the Cypress Creek watershed,” Zeve said. “We had our biggest spending year in history—approximately $300 million [in 2019]—and we look to do even more in 2020, possibly even doubling that.”
Since Hurricane Harvey, the HCFCD has acquired 80 properties in the Cypress Creek watershed, in addition to three tracts of land for flood plain preservation, 10 tracts of land for stormwater detention basins and 105 empty tracts of land that were platted for houses, Zeve said.
As of mid-December, the district was also in the process of acquiring 60 additional properties and 48 tracts of land in the Cypress Creek watershed. In total, HCFCD had property rights for over 10,278 acres in the Cypress Creek watershed at that time.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the Cypress Creek watershed was developed before we had a firm understanding of where we should and shouldn’t build safely,” he said. “But what’s done is done, so now we’re working to solve some of those problems through buyouts.”
One Cy-Fair area project where construction is expected to start in 2020 involves making improvements to a Cypress Creek channel in the Timberlake subdivision. Crews will excavate portions of the creek and add a series of box culverts—structures that allow water to flow though newly excavated areas. The project is expected to be completed by spring 2021 at the cost of $10 million.
In the upstream parts of Cypress Creek in the Katy-Hockley area, the district is looking to start construction on a wetlands mitigation bank in 2020, Zeve said.
“Generally our projects involve impacting wetlands because a lot of our projects involve digging, so we have to mitigate for our impacts,” he said. “This is key to helping all of our projects on the western part of the county.”
Another project the HCFCD will see results from this year is an update to the 2003 Texas Water Development Board study into Cypress Creek tributaries.
According to Zeve, the update will be released around February and will help the district pinpoint areas where staff should be acquiring right of way before they can begin on the next phase of bond projects.
Outside of the bond, the Bayou Land Conservancy—a nonprofit that works to preserve land in the Greater Houston area—approved its 20-year Strategic Conservation Plan in November. Executive Director Jill Boullion said the plan identified 26,500 acres of high-quality land in the Cypress Creek watershed that would be desirable for future flood plain preservation—about 10% of the total acreage in the watershed.
“Our goal is to double our conservation acres,” Boullion said. “So we could go from where we are now, at about 14,000 [acres], up to 20,000-30,000 [acres] in the next 20 years.”